Story by Christian Clark, KBIA Sports
Photos by Joe Trezza, KBIA Sports
ATLANTA — There was tension in the Georgia Dome with a little less than five minutes to play in the third quarter of the Southeastern Conference Championship between Missouri and Alabama.
Despite losing defensive end Shane Ray to an ejection in the second quarter, and despite its defense allowing three first-half touchdowns, Missouri managed to whittle Alabama’s lead down to eight points with 4:37 to play in the third period when kicker Andrew Baggett’s 33-yard field goal made it 21-13.
Scores of Alabama fans returned to their seats, their “Roll Tide” chants ceasing for the first time all game. The pocket of gold among the sea of crimson seemed to come alive, finally having something to cheer for. Missouri had fought back from a 21-3 deficit to make it a one-possession game, and maybe it could take down mighty Alabama.
As it turned out the tension was fleeting. Alabama responded with a pair of touchdown drives that combined to cover 154 yards on 18 plays and rolled to a 42-13 victory over No. 14 Missouri (10-3, 7-2).
“They answered,” head coach Gary Pinkel said. “They did what you’ve got to do. That to me was two statement drives from their standpoint.”
In the end, a Missouri defense that’s been the strength of the team couldn’t contain Alabama’s offensive attack.
Crimson Tide quarterback Blake Sims finished the day 23 of 27 with 262 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver DeAndrew White caught four passes for 101 yards and a touchdown, while fellow wide receiver Amari Cooper hauled in 12 passes for 83 yards. Tailback Derrick Henry had 20 carries for 141 yards and two scores.
Alabama amassed 504 yards of total offense, the most the Missouri defense has allowed all year. The Tigers’ inability to stop the Crimson Tide on third down — they went 9-of-13 — helped Nick Saban’s team hold the ball for 36:43.
“They got the momentum back,” linebacker Michael Scherer said. “That’s all there is to it. We just didn’t play as well as we could have.”
Part of the Crimson Tide’s success on offense could be attributed to the absence of one of Missouri’s best players, Shane Ray, for most of the game.
The Tigers’ defensive end was ejected by the officials with 11:48 remaining in the second quarter after he hit Sims well after the Crimson Tide’s quarterback had uncorked a 58-yard touchdown pass. Ray was tossed out of the game for targeting, a rule that’s enforced when a player initiates contact with another player using the crown of his helmet.
“It was probably one of the worst feelings of my life having to leave my brothers on that field, especially in a game that we worked so hard to get to,” said Ray, who has 14 sacks on the year. “And, you know, regardless of me being out there, it’s not about me. It’s about this team.”
Missouri lost Ray and in a few hours’ time, would lose its second straight SEC Championship. Gone is its six-game win streak. Now the Tigers must put this one behind them and begin preparation for their next match. They won’t have to wait long to find out who their next opponent is either. The Bowl Game Selection show is Sunday at 5:30. Fans can watch the show on MizzouNetwork.com.
“This team is a resilient team,” Ray said. “This is a group of guys that’s always been underrated, and continue to come out and battle each week, regardless of what people think and say. This team’s going to learn. It’s going to grow from this, and we’re going to go out and get prepared for another football game.”